UT Austin Portugal Program: Entering the new year “with an even bigger ambition”

A message from the leadership of the Program for 2019.

With the start of a new year, the biggest challenge in this new phase of the UT Austin Portugal Program is to grow on past experience. When assessing the Program’s impact on research in Portugal and in the US in the last 10 years, we find that the greatest impact was on people: students, faculty, company executives, among others. The relations built between parties from both sides of the Atlantic were always very effective and open. Talented people have always been available to make a difference in this Program, to do a little more than expected, through the various actions and streams of collaboration.

The impact of the UT Austin Portugal Program has been significant on the hundreds of individuals who have come in contact with its educational, research and innovation instruments – the Portuguese faculty members who have had an opportunity to improve teaching methods and technical research by cooperating with US faculty at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and other universities; the researchers who were trained in projects involving other researchers and companies in both countries; the students who have prospered, receiving degrees with international recognition. In addition to this, many professionals in companies have had the opportunity to build projects with technologies developed jointly by Portuguese and US researchers. Therefore, the relevance of this international cooperation is significant.

It is our intention to continue to grow and to keep developing these relations, with an even bigger ambition and increased funding, seeking a larger impact by consolidating three of the areas already developed in the past (Advanced Computing, Nanotechnologies and Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship) with the new strategic areas of the Program (Space-Earth Interactions and Medical Physics). Future activities of the Program will be supported by a clear national strategy, on one side, and anchored in infrastructures of major relevance, on the other side.

A previous’ phase area, Advanced Computing is now going to be tied to the Minho Advanced Computing Center (MACC). The installation of the first supercomputer in Minho, along with the creation of MAAC, will provide advanced computing services for the entire country, allowing the development of diverse applications of scientific and commercial scope. The Center is currently being built with the offer of a supercomputer given to the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) by the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), within the scope of the International Partnership between the UT Austin and Portugal. The UT Austin Portugal Program will support this ambitious project by continuing to develop training actions at TACC and by doing the first experiments in building a new business model on advancing computing services. The Program will also involve the Portuguese science, innovation and industry communities interested in this area, increasing the usage of advanced computing resources (high performance computing, high throughput computing and quantum computing), thus helping to possibly pave the way for a new generation of technical professionals and computing infrastructure.

The Space-Earth Interactions strategic area has the objective of fostering research involving transatlantic cooperation towards an integrative approach to research areas, intrinsically related to the interests of the Atlantic International Research Centre (AIR Centre) – which represents a significant infrastructure and project in Azores, Portugal. The purpose, by combining synergies, will be to exploit the potential of integrated research and to produce and transfer know-how that will greatly benefit Portugal in matters of space technologies, climate and clean energy, and earth and ocean observation and interaction, together with emerging methods of data science. Special emphasis will be placed on the deep sea and ocean’s interactions. It will be impactful research.

In Medical Physics, we will be targeting current challenges that the healthcare field faces, contributing to the development of advanced cancer therapies. Looking at a medium to long-term perspective, we will be establishing new joint ventures with The University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, a leader in clinical research and development of proton-based cancer therapy in the United States, as well as faculty at UT Austin – namely at Dell Medical School and Cockrell School of Engineering – and Portuguese universities and research institutions. The idea is, firstly, to train physicians and physicists in proton-based cancer therapy, a highly-advanced technique to treat difficult and resilient cancers. The training program and other joint projects will then lay the groundwork to, eventually, enable Portugal to invest and to install a proton therapy center, similar to the Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson, aligned with the national strategy for the growth of advanced training of oncology and radiology experts.

The areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology have demonstrated to have a tremendous impact on health, environment, energy, transportation, and information technology sectors. Nanotechnologies is also a medium to long-term commitment in the UT Austin Portugal Program, focusing on an integrative approach to nanoscience, over diversified applications. In this area, we will reinforce relations with the International Iberian Nanotechnology Center (INL), and also with other research groups and companies, which are interested in working in Nanotechnology, with applications in many different areas, such as environment, health or industry.

The Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship program area, leveraging on past activities of the University Technology Enterprise Network (UTEN) that created a tremendous economic impact, will bring, adapt and implement in Portugal a very successful program from the US for promoting start-ups and science-based entrepreneurship. The NSF Innovation Corps (i-CorpsTM) is a program in the US, created and supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and done in partnership with universities to help foster innovation among faculty and students, extending their focus beyond campus, promoting regional relations and accelerating projects towards commercialization. We now have the opportunity to implement a variant of this program in Portugal (PT-Corps) to complement, enhance and leverage other existing programs that promote and stimulate the launch and growth of knowledge-based spin-offs, oriented to international markets. We do not intend to compete with existing initiatives but, instead, leverage and complement them, building on past achievements and helping to bring companies to the next level. One of the advantages is that customer discovery will be done in an international arena, both in Europe and in the US, thus bringing companies to the internationalization that spin-offs search for.

Last year, the UT Austin Portugal Program concluded projects and activities developed during Phase 2 of the international partnership. It was a transitional year. In 2019, we are aiming to put into place different kinds of projects – from smaller and short-term exploratory projects to strategic projects led by companies, the PT-Corps initiative, exchange programs, workshops and intensive training programs, promoting new and challenging opportunities in emerging areas worldwide, whilst expanding our network and collaborative community.

“Create Knowledge, Foster Change”. In the end of last year, we introduced our new logo and visual identity, one capable of translating the specific strategy of the Program moving forward, but also in celebration of a 10 years’ successful joint partnership. Our motto is also our goal – to face new challenges, creating relevant knowledge and fostering impactful change. We are hopeful to reach the end of this year with a full-scale, very ambitious and exciting program, with its impact being felt in the years to come.

2019 will be a wonderful year!

José Manuel Mendonça
Rui Oliveira
Sara Brandão
John G. Ekerdt
Marco Bravo